Sour Jazz’s “No Values” is an important record!
Important not in the fractured sense of American popular music iconography, because rock-n-roll is neither popular nor important anymore (if it ever was). No, Sour Jazz is meaningful as a travelogue for displaced dreams. Important for those too foolish to give up the ghost and quit struggling with the rotting carcass that is rock-n-roll. Sour Jazz celebrates the raw passion of “rawk” and rejoices in kicking that carcass, pouring salt in the still open wounds.
The music of Sour Jazz is suavely spun by the following four gentlemen: Mr. Ratboy, Mr. Popular, Cowboy and Splat Action. The four long-time New York City musical veterans gathered together in a small Manhattan recording studio to chart their own path through the oftentimes turgid reality of contemporary sound. The resultant music is revelatory. Mr. Ratboy stumbles around like a mad drunk, coaxing raw, challenging sonic nuggets from his vintage guitar. In the flailing, tortured yelps of Mr Popular, one can hear the internal dialogue of a grown man trying to wriggle his way into 20-year-old leather trousers.
The rhythmic engine of Splat Action and Cowboy vibrates and clangs with the straightforward riddims of an unrelenting locomotive. Focusing on the task at hand with a literal-minded vehemence, Splat Action’s crashing backbeat provides the perfect platform for the impending musical convergence, while Cowboy’s deceptive, fluid bass lines dig below Manhattan’s streets of rock-n-roll to expose the dark forbidding passageways beneath the ground.
The aural geography of “No Values” departs considerably from the by-now-standard Detroit/New York/Australia axis to embrace Memphis-style horns and scraping, decrepit percussion. A wheezing, ghost-like synthesizer can also be heard above the surging pulse, as if to echo the vast, haunting regions of space too quickly abandoned by an earlier generation of musical explorers.
Lyrically, at first listen, Sour Jazz seems to be primarily interested in the phallus, particularly its own. But this initial reading (see, for instance, “Prick”) masks a darker, more profound interest. Unlike so many other contemporary performers, Sour Jazz uses sexual braggadocio to explore nothing less than the nature and meaning of existence itself. It is a brave, dangerous journey of self-exploration. But at the same time it is exhilarating, and paradoxically, limitless.
It is tempting to dismiss Sour Jazz as fools, as was the case with other unappreciated geniuses, out of step with their own times. However, to do so would be a mistake. To misquote another tortured self-explorer, “Listen with prejudice!”
— Derek Shackwell-Smith, New York City, 29.2.99